After decades of fad diets and magic supplements, and with obesity still very much on the rise, our society is finally starting to grasp that a healthy lifestyle does not come with an easy pill.
Everyone seems to be trying to eat healthier and exercise, and I like to believe our generation has contributed quite a great deal to this sudden interest in living well-balanced, healthy lives.
Below is a list of eight simple, manageable, low-cost tips to help you get rid of some bad eating habits and replace them with new ones:
1. Write down everything you eat.
In order to gain complete control over your diet, the starting point is having a complete overview of what you actually put in your body. You can start off by simply writing a food journal for a week.
Then, sit down and look for any patterns you can find. See if there is a specific time or day when you snack more, what your dinners usually look like and when you tend to eat the most.
Turn this end-of-the-week introspection into a habit. You can only write down what you eat, or you can actually begin tracking all of your macros.
Using one of the calorie-counter apps available makes tracking all of your macro- and micro-nutrients super easy, and you get a fantastic insight into what your diet actually looks like.
2. Avoid eating alone or in a hurry.
Besides enjoying good company, having a meal with other people will also help you avoid mindless overeating, which often includes gulping down meals in front of one of the many screens our 21st century lives have to offer, or even right there in our cars.
Sit down for every one of your meals and make an event out of it. Take your time and focus on the food in front of you.
Enjoy its smell, the richness of taste and even its appearance. Thoroughly chew every bite and pay attention to how your body responds. Notice when you feel full, and stop eating when you know you've had enough.
3. Be more active in everything you do.
I don't know about you, but for a long time, I was desperately trying to find the time for exercise in my busy schedule.
Often, that would naturally lead to the commonly known excuse of not having enough time to simply be active, when in fact, putting our bodies in motion is one of the most natural things a human does to exist in this world.
So, start using your legs more. Take the stairs (not the elevator), ride your bike to work if you have that option, play with your dog more often, take a walk instead of watching TV or spending useless time on the internet and simply stretch every hour or so, especially if you spend your days cramped in front of the computer.
Basically, move out of your head and start using your body more.
4. Fill your plate with veggies first.
There is more than one upside to this habit.
Firstly, if you fill up your plate with low-calorie food (vegetables are ideal), you immediately perceive your plate as full and can barely find the place to add more food.
Secondly, if you eat those veggies before you attack that huge steak waiting for you, you just might discover your belly is actually quite full already.
And thirdly, vegetables are simply good for you. You might have heard the story of green veggies that are magical because of their high-fiber content and tons of vitamins before.
And you might just hate me right now for stating this obvious fact again, but try eating two or three times as much vegetables than what you are used to, and trust me, your entire digestive system will thank you.
5. Feed your body with complex carbs.
Let go of the ancient belief that a low-carb diet is the best way to go.
The truth is, your body needs more carbohydrates than any other nutrient. The myth of getting slim by eliminating carbs from your diet is based on the fact simple carbs indeed do you no good, since your body processes them much too quickly, which leads to a rapid rise and then a rapid fall of your blood sugar.
This leaves you feeling sluggish, drained of all energy and, quite often, a bit bloated.
So, how to ditch this habit with little effort? Think in terms of substitutions, instead of eliminations.
Once you start tracking what you eat, focus on the meals where you consume most of your carbs, and make sure you substitute them with complex carbs. Some of the best choices are whole grains (oatmeal, whole wheat bread, brown rice, corn, quinoa), green vegetables, starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits.
6. Make sure you get enough healthy fats.
Much like carbs, fats also have a certain bad reputation with people trying to lose weight. Over the past couple of decades, everything diet-worthy seemed to be either low-fat or low-carb.
So, I can't stress enough how essential fatty acids are actually crucial for your well-being. The situation is again similar to carbs: You have “bad fats” (trans fats and saturated fats) and “good fats” (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats).
Bad fats really are bad for you because they raise your cholesterol level, and they are the reason most people trying to eat right are avoiding all fats.
But mono- and polyunsaturated fats are good for your health, since they actually help lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk for heart disease. My tip is again the same as with carbs.
Find substitutions you will fall in love with. For example, coconut oil, olive oil, cod fish liver oil, nuts, avocados or nut butter are all great options to add to your diet.
7. Eat plenty of lean protein.
Protein is the macro that plays a crucial role in every single function of our bodies.
It also plays a very important role in your diet, if you are trying to lose or even maintain weight, since it boosts your metabolism and helps to reduce appetite. It keeps you full and satisfied longer.
Some great options are Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, quark and eggs. Try soy milk, tofu, tempeh or legumes if you want to avoid animal protein altogether.
If you eat meat, then go for chicken or turkey breasts, tuna, tilapia, salmon, etc.
8. Find balance in everything you do.
Last but not least, don't restrict yourself and don't torment yourself over every single thing you didn't do according to your plan.
Once you accept the only person in the world you should explain yourself to is you, it will be much easier to treat your body the way it deserves to be treated.
If you want to lose weight, get fit, eat clean or anything else, you most probably already know what you need to do. The only reason you're still not doing it is because you feel you should play by other people's rules to achieve that goal.
But it's your body, your life, your goal and your rules.
If you know you can't live without chocolate, then don't put yourself on a restricted diet that doesn't allow you to eat anything but fruits for a month, just because a friend supposedly lost 20 pounds doing it.
And then don't beat yourself up when you binge on chocolate after a “really good week”. Find what works for you and you alone.